Caribbean Diaspora Reconsidered:
A Graduate Student Conference

Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Friday, September 28 and
Saturday, September 29, 2012

Keynote Speaker:
Professor Robert A. Hill (UCLA)

Invited Faculty Moderators:
Anthony Bogues (Brown University), Adam Ewing (Johns Hopkins University),
Leonard Brown (Northeastern University), Gina Athena Ulysse (Wesleyan University)


Harvard University invites submissions of abstracts of 250 words or less relating to the theme of “Caribbean Diaspora Reconsidered,” a conference to be held September 28 and 29, 2012. Panels have been predetermined, and those interested in participating should send a proposal indicating their interest in one specific panel, detailed below. Two sets of three presenters will be selected for each panel, meaning that a total of 24 abstracts for eight panels will be accepted for presentation. Although advanced scholars will be in attendance, this conference is specifically designed for the benefit of graduate students at every level, by whom all of the presentations will be given. If interested in submitting a proposal, please send abstracts to harvard.reconsiderdiaspora@gmail.com
addressed to the contact for the respective panel of interest. The conference deadline to submit proposals is March 31st, 2012. All who submit an abstract will be notified of their status by the mid- to late April; all those selected will be asked to turn in a draft of their presentation by mid-July. We welcome you to participate and spread the news!


2012 marks the anniversaries for several watershed moments in the histories of the Caribbean, particularly for people of African ancestry. August is the 50th anniversary of liberation from British rule in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Additionally, this year Cubans will celebrate the Bicentennial of the Aponte slave and free black rebellion, inspired by Haitian independence and led by Jose Antonio Aponte in 1812. Finally, the Centennial of the Massacre of 1912 in Cuba will also take place this year, an event which devastated the Partido Independiente de Color and resulted in the mass execution of several thousand Black Cubans in Oriente province. These events serve as an entry point for examining evolving bonds between postcolonial states and their historic and contemporary diasporas.

In an increasingly globalized world, diasporas have become the norm rather than the exception. Nowhere does this ring more true than in the Americas, where communities hail from Central and Western Africa, from Western Europe, South and East Asia, as well as the Arabian peninsula. The recognition of such diverse origins provides an opportunity to investigate the limits and possibilities of past and postmodern concepts of “diaspora.” In reflecting on these historical developments in a contemporary moment, we ask: How can we place students and scholars doing work around older notions of diaspora in conversation with those thinking about the term in new and complex ways? How do physical landscapes and soundscapes change when people leave, and also when they return to a geographic space? What is to be made of retained and altered languages, artistic legacies and religious traditions? How do the intellectual histories of transnational social movements like Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association dialogue with more contemporary notions of political philosophy today? Finally, how do concepts of “home” fit into all of these conversations? Many scholars agree that globalization has challenged traditional notions of sovereignty in fundamental ways, and by looking at questions of independence, religion, immigration, deportation, social movements, folklore and cultural inheritance through the lens of diaspora, this conference will allow us to put a wide range of topics and methodological approaches in deeper and optimistically more revelatory conversations.

Panel One: “Caribbean Independence and Diaspora”

August of 2012 will mark the 50th anniversary of independence from British rule in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and the Bicentennial of the Aponte uprising in Cuba. How are we to understand historic struggles for freedom and for political independence in the Caribbean? What is the relationship between political sovereignty and diaspora, between independence movements and transnational social movements like pan-Africanism? What was the role, for example, of Garveyism or Rastafari in Caribbean independence? How are we to understand the historic aspirations of grass-roots organizations like the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and social movements like Rastafari in light of the present celebration of this half-century anniversary? This commemorative panel will address the historic roots of Caribbean independence movements and the relationship of the post-colonial states to their diasporas.

(Contact: Ben Weber: harvard.reconsiderdiaspora@gmail.com)

Panel Two: “Art, Performance, and Religions of Diaspora”

Do religions remain intact when crossing an ocean, or do they shape shift in migration? How does a community distinguish between sacred ceremonies and costumed, public festivals? And how is it that art—in its various forms of altars, masks, statues, ritual dance and carnival—continues to be one of the largest exports of Caribbean nations? This panel seeks to explore the role of aesthetics and spirituality as critical components of Caribbean identity fashioning. Historically, researchers have relied on oral traditions, folklore, music and myths to create archives for the Caribbean Diaspora. However, as the field of Africana archaeology expands, more scholars are turning to the material culture of musical performance, craftsmanship and religious traditions in order to establish new narratives about complex ontological being in the Caribbean. This panel invites all papers pertaining to issues of art as archive, musical legacies, sacred healing rites, masquerade, divination and ritual performances as they relate to the Caribbean and its expanding Diasporas.

(Contact: Kyrah Daniels: harvard.reconsiderdiaspora@gmail.com)

Panel Three: “Security, Deportation, and Immigration: The Politics of Forced Diaspora”

Close to 400,000 people were deported from the United States by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service) in fiscal year 2011. In the entire decade of the 1980s, only about 200,000 people were deported from the United States. The nationwide implementation of programs such as Secure Communities—which call for increased collaboration between local and federal law enforcement—as well as draconian anti-immigrant legislation being passed at the state level will only increase this annual number of deportations. How can the growing number of citizens and noncitizens in jails, prisons, and immigrant detention centers around the world, particularly in the United States and in territories under U.S. control, be explained? What happens when the effects of an unjust U.S. criminal justice system are experienced elsewhere? This is precisely the case with U.S. deportation of noncitizens with non-violent criminal records, a phenomenon increasingly affecting members of the Caribbean diaspora, including Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Dominicans, Haitians, and Guyanese people. Moreover, what implications do these intersections have for social justice movements at the local and transnational levels?

(Contact: Sandy Plácido: harvard.reconsiderdiaspora@gmail.com)

Panel Four: “The Caribbean Diaspora in Africana Political Thought”

With the emergence and ever-greater intellectual cohesion of Africana political thought, increasing attention is being paid to the transnational linkages that bind the political actions of the citizens of the Caribbean, Africa, and members of their diasporas living throughout the world. Even more importantly, recognition has been made of the interwoven and overlapping political philosophies that undergird these actions. This panel will give acute focus to the role of the Caribbean in those transnational intellectual linkages in attempts to address questions such as: How has the Caribbean been perceived throughout time and space in relation to its role as part of a politicized Africana diaspora? How have political ideas from the Caribbean informed the political thoughts and actions of citizens in Africa and beyond, and vice-versa? At what point and why do both junctures and ruptures in such transnational political thought occur, and as such, are observers actually justified in their imagination of a unified corpus of so-called Africana (or Afro-Caribbean) political philosophy?

(Contact: Jason Warner, harvard.reconsiderdiaspora@gmail.com)

This conference has been made possible thanks to generous financial support from:

The W.E.B. DuBois Institute
The Charles Warren Center
The Program on Global History
The David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies
The Harvard Department of History
The Harvard Program on the History of American Civilization
The Harvard Department of African and African American Studies